Today, like all investments and commodities, the price of gold is ultimately driven by supply and demand. Unlike most other commodities, the hoarding and disposal plays a much bigger role in affecting the price, because most of the gold ever mined still exists and is potentially able to come on to the market for the right price. Given the huge quantity of stored gold, compared to the annual production, the price of gold is mainly affected by changes in sentiment, rather than changes in annual production. According to the World Gold Council, annual mine production of gold over the last few years has been close to 2,500 tonnes. About 2,000 tonnes goes into jewelry or industrial/dental production, and around 500 tonnes goes to retail investors and exchange traded gold funds. This translates to an annual demand for gold to be 1000 tonnes in excess over mine production which has come from central bank sales and other disposal.
Central banks and the International Monetary Fund play an important role in the gold price. At the end of 2004 central banks and official organizations held 19 percent of all above-ground gold as official gold reserves. The Washington Agreement on Gold (WAG), which dates from September 1999, limits gold sales by its members (Europe, United States, Japan, Australia, Bank for International Settlements and the International Monetary Fund) to less than 400 tonnes a year. European central banks, such as the Bank of England and Swiss National Bank, have been key sellers of gold over this period. Although central banks do not generally announce gold purchases in advance, some, such as Russia, have expressed interest in growing their gold reserves again as of late 2005. In early 2006, China, which only holds 1.3% of its reserves in gold, announced that it was looking for ways to improve the returns on its official reserves. Some bulls hope that this signals that China might reposition more of its holdings into gold in line with other Central Banks.
A 500,000,000,000 (500 billion) Yugoslavia dinar banknote circa 1993, the largest nominal value ever officially printed in Yugoslavia, the final result of hyperinflation. Photo courtesy of National Bank of Serbia.
When dollars were fully convertible into gold, both were regarded as money. However, most people preferred to carry around paper banknotes rather than the somewhat heavier and less divisible gold coins. If people feared their bank would fail, a bank run might have been the result. This is what happened in the USA during the Great Depression of the 1930s, leading President Roosevelt to impose a national emergency and to outlaw the hoarding of gold by US citizens. Known as Executive Order 6102 which has since been ended.
Low or negative real interest rates
If the return on bonds, equities and real estate is not adequately compensating for risk and inflation then the demand for gold and other alternative investments such as commodities increases. An example of this is the period of Stagflation that occurred during the 1970s and which led to an economic bubble forming in precious metals.
War, invasion, looting, crisis
In times of national crisis, people fear that their assets may be seized and that the currency may become worthless. They see gold as a solid asset which will always buy food or transportation. Thus in times of great uncertainty, particularly when war is feared, the demand for gold rises.